?Considering a Social Dilemma in Practice: Using a Code of Ethics to Inform Decision Making


Social dilemmas have the potential to define an entire population, leading to the need to assess and understand the implications associated with trends.This study uses the social trap of carbon fuel pollution to illustrate the manner and means of defection and cooperation that are possible in order to create progress.This research will be of use to any person researching social science and the need to build on a fundamental level.

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Found in every society, culture and region, the common definition for a social dilemma is held to be an instance where there is the potential for individual gain at the cost of the larger group (Baqlliet et al., 2013). In a very real sense, this environment is created in order for an individual to profit from selfishness; however, if everyone chooses this alternative, the entire group stands to lose, indicating a win or nothing social condition. McCarter et al. (2011) argue that issues begin to arise as too many of the target population choose the negative option preferring the sense of immediate satisfaction over the group’s long-term interests. This outlines a sense of non-committal on the part of the population, speaking to the tendency to put off social experiences and dilemmas that often take various forms across a wide variety for fields and disciplines. With illustrations of social issues including climate change, pollution as well as human overpopulation, there is a fundamental platform that must be achieved in order to effectively identify and correct errant or negative trends.

This study addresses the question of the social dilemma of fossil fuel consumption.Argued to be a commonly experienced social trap found in the use of carbon fuels in the environment day-to-day social operations (Chen et al., 2012). A social trap is created when there is a drive to experience and create immediate rewards as opposed to waiting to offset the potential negative, leaving much of the defining nature of the experience to the individual. Carbon pollution and the burning of fossil fuels creates the social dilemma by creating and fundamentally building a infrastructure around behavior patterns that have produced rewards in the short term, or current and past generations, but clearly hold a diminishing return when considered in context with the future and larger environmental picture (Khachatryan et al, 2013). The elements of a condition that create social traps are identified as reinforces that tend to build a stronger pattern of behavior in small cases yet, serves to punish larger instances. In this case defection is defined as the unbridaled consumption of fossil fuels, with the cooperative social position being defined as an on going effort to reduce that very same use of carbon fueld. In a short term capacity, carbon fuels and combustion engines have transformed technology and the way of life for an entire civilization, yet, the use of the technology without restraint has enabled negative consequences to arise. In short it is the short term gain for society that serves to encourage the use of the carbon fuels, yet the long term price in terms of negative environment impact and loss of wildlife and natural resources becomes consequential.

2. Analysis

Social issues cross boundaries to impact every science and branch of study (Sagiv et al., 2011). With this recognition, there are wide ranges of theories that have the potential to apply to this social trap/dilemma of employing carbon fuels in day to day activities. Leading among many researchers is the economic game theory, or expected utility theory (McCarter et al., 2011). This approach argues that any person is a rational actor that is solely motivated to make the most of their personal positions, or utility in terms of a person’s economic self-interest. In this instance the short term gains of employing polluting technology are seemingly insignificant in the face of day to day travel needs (Balleiet et al., 2013). With a willful form of defection, there is the sense of putting off the payment for future generations, leaving many of the population that seeks a cooperative solution with little recourse. According to the Game theory, there is much more likely for socially non-cooperative outcome, simply due to the ease of use and social acceptance, despite the documented negative instances related to the collection and consumption of these resources.

Many social dilemmas evoke conflict amongst moral values, making the correct choice less clear to decipher (Banks, 2006). Banks has implied how decision making about another’s welfare can frequently involve issues which are both personal and painful, thus judgements will need to be made which are ethical and promote human welfare (Banks, 2012). In knowledge of this, it is crucial to have proper justification for actions and in-actions. A second relevant theory of Utilitarianism has been developed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832): ‘Utilitarianism incorporates how actions have consequences, which should balance advantages and disadvantages, relatively within a certain course of action,’ (Parrott 2010, p. 54). When putting this principal into action it is acceptable for one person to suffer, if this translates to a greater number of people being happy. Two existing principles pertain to the theory of utilitarianism, and these are justice and utility. Understanding the principle of justice can be captured in respect for equality and fairness, everyone’s happiness should be considered with the same weight. Utility as a principal infers the greatest good for everyone.

However, both of these principles can clash if the minority of people are unhappy. Beauchamp and Childress (2001) have outlined the principal of justice: which accounts for distribution of fair benefits, risks and costs; this encapsulates the notion that similar cases should be treated similarly. In a clinical role it is regarded as being within the job role to effectively ‘assess the whole situation, while working for outcomes while considering everyone’s best interests’ (Banks 2012). Yet, each individual in the society has the option to disagree, and therefore defect from the effort, weakening the end results.

An alternative complimentary approach is Virtue ethics and the theory of this principal investigates individual character.

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A persons ‘virtue ethics’ are thought to be guided and developed through their personal beliefs, and this process is said to determine overall character. As an approach Virtue ethics are carried out ‘according to which the basic judgments in ethics are judgments about character’ (Statman, 1997, p. 7). This argument indicates that a person could be co-operative by appealing to their better nature, rather than depending on the satisfaction of their immediate desires. It is recognised that issues of an ethical nature will often be embedded in personal responsibility or relationships. Linking the fight for a long term, environmentally balanced and healthy society with the need to provide a better future for the next generations, there is evidence that substantial progress can be made for the co-operative efforts (McCarter et al., 2011).

A further area of social science that applies to this case is referred to as Radical often recognized as ‘critical’ or ‘activist’ work (McCarter et al., 2011). Within this radical position the viewpoint taken is of a transformational approach, where concerns are placed on the transformation of society as this will benefit those who are most oppressed, or those suffering in adverse environmental conditions, in comparison to focusing on the individual profit, or day to day consumers (Hill, 2010). In addition, McIntyre (1982) as cited in Payne (2004) determined radical approaches and criticisms being that; traditionally, social work can lower complex social problems and turn them into individual psychological ones, while potentially cutting off service users from contact to others who have similar problems. Yet, in in the case of pollution and using offered technology seems to translate to creating isolation between workers and those who need the service

3. Reducing Defection

Among the many possible solutions to decreasing defections and increasing possible cooperation is the option of motivational solutions (Khachatryan et al., 2013). Providing opportunities for mutual gain, both in the short and long term, creates an incentive for long term, effective cooperation and progress. There components of a must be assessed in order to create a reduced or improved environment (McCarter et al., 2011):

Individualism or the presence of the tendency for a person to act selfishly
Competition or the capacity to measure outcomes relative to others
The opportunity for cooperation

In this case is seems possible to incorporate all three elements into an effective anti-defection strategy. Emphasizing the positive aspects of using alternative fuels has the potential to inspire the individual to work outside the acceptable social net by not using fossil fuels. Furthermore, the creation of a competitive form of reporting would serve to build a measureable means for people to assess their own efforts, as well as that of others. The first two are pro-self-approaches while the third is considered a prosocial orientation (Chen et al., 2012). Prosocial and pro-self-persons react differently when faced with a similar situation, making the need to find a solution that can bridge the gap between them critical. Prosocial views often concern themselves with the moral implications, thereby seek out cooperation. This can be seen in this context as the drive to harvest less from a common resource, thereby reducing overall dependency and negative consequences.

Strategic solutions also have the potential to increase cooperation and reduce defections in the social dilemma of carbon fuel pollution (Ballet et al., 2013). This is an approach that uses interactions to create an environment of cooperation as the society uses a Tit for tat strategy. This approach seems to be present in the current discourse about carbon pollution with many consumers making a cooperative move, while at the same moment mirroring decisions of the partner. TFT applies to this dilemma in that it is a real-world strategy that has a proven record of success, thereby inciting many consumers to take part in the effort. These forms of structural changes alter the game by modifying the social dilemma or removing the issue completely. In this case a reduction in consumption has the potential to move on completely from the carbon fuel based system. Furthermore, research on conservation repeatedly illustrates that incentives are effective in decreasing consumption of resources as well as the adoption of renewable resources (Chen et al., 2012). Many case studies illustrate that cooperation is based on various factors, including the ability to monitor the situation in order to punish defectors leading to an external structure that opts to cooperate and self-organise with the inherent ability to communicate and share in order to effectively resolve social delimmas.

4. Conclusion

In conlusion, when evaluating the strengths the social dilemma of using carbon fuels, the need of the day to day consumer must be considered in the light of long term cost. Using a cooperative approach that serves to provide incentives and alternatives to possible defectors serves to enhance the underlying effort and add impact to the arguments that desire cooperation. Overall, it is certain that the core of the burden translates to effective planning while accounting for the present situation. With many possible solutions, this study has illustrated that following a radical approach could lead to empowerment of the service user, enable individuals to overcome social stigma attached to the pollution issue as educate them with skills needed to be independent in future. In the end, in order to encourage cooperation there needs to be a viable alternative that makes sense on a day to day basis as well as being affordable to the common person. Lacking a comprehensive strategy will only encourage those that resist change to depend on the technology of the past in order to face the challenges of the future.

5. References

Balliet, D., & Ferris, D. (2013). Ostracism and prosocial behavior: A social dilemma perspective.Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 120(2), 298-308. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.04.004

Banks, S. & Gallagher, A. (2009). Ethics in professional life: virtues for health and social care. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Banks, S. (2012). Ethics and Values in Social Work. (fourth edition). Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2001). Principles of biomedical ethics. Oxford university press.

Beckett, C. (2007). The reality principle: Realism as an ethical obligation. Ethics and Social Welfare, 1(3), 269-281.

Beckett, C. (2012). Values and ethics in social work. Sage.

Chen, X., Szolnoki, A., & Perc, M. (2012). Risk-driven migration and the collective-risk social dilemma. Physical Review E, 86(3). doi:10.1103/physreve.86.036101

Clifford, D., & Burke, B. (2008).Anti-oppressive ethics and values in social work. Palgrave Macmillan.

Darwall, S. (1995). The British Moralists and the Internal’Ought’: 1640-1740. Cambridge University Press.

Dolgoff, R., Loewenberg, F. M., & Harrington, D. (2009). Ethical issues for social work practice.

Derlega, V., & Grzelak, J. (1982). Cooperation and helping behavior. New York: Academic Press.

Hill, L. (2010). Radical indecision: Barthes, Blanchot, Derrida, and the future of criticism.

Johnson, R. (2008). Kant’s moral philosophy.

Khachatryan, H., Joireman, J., & Casavant, K. (2013). Relating values and consideration of future and immediate consequences to consumer preference for biofuels: A three-dimensional social dilemma analysis. Journal Of Environmental Psychology, 34, 97-108. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.01.001

McCarter, M., Mahoney, J., & Northcraft, G. (2011). TESTING THE WATERS: USING COLLECTIVE REAL OPTIONS TO MANAGE THE SOCIAL DILEMMA OF STRATEGIC ALLIANCES. Academy Of Management Review, 36(4), 621-640. doi:10.5465/amr.2011.65554629

Parrott, L. (2010). Values and ethics in social work practice. SAGE.

Payne, G., & Payne, J. (2004).Key concepts in social research. Sage.

Saleebey, D. (1996). The strengths perspective in social work practice: Extensions and cautions. Social work, 41(3), 296-305.

Statman, D. (1997). Virtue ethics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Sagiv, L., Sverdlik, N., & Schwarz, N. (2011). To compete or to cooperateValues’ impact on perception and action in social dilemma games. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 41(1), 64-77. doi:10.1002/ejsp.729

Thompson, N. (2007). Power and empowerment. Russell House Pub.

Wilson, K. (2008). Social work: An introduction to contemporary practice. Pearson Education.

Wilson, K., Ruch, G., Lymbery, M., & Cooper, A. (2008). Social work. Essex: Pearson.

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